It's Only the End of the World
Cannes 2016: Discomforting and somewhat disappointing drama from Xavier Dolan
This is the second time Québécois wunderkind Xavier Dolan has adapted material from the stage for the big screen. His first endeavour in this respect, 2013’s Tom at the Farm, from a play written by Michel Marc Bouchard, turned out to be a suspenseful Hitchcockian thriller that wrestled with homophobic attitudes. It was designed to put the audience through the ringer and so too is his sixth film, which is based on Jean-Luc Lagarce’s play of the same name.
After 12 years apart from his family, Louis (Gaspard Ulliel) heads back home to break the news that he is suffering from a terminal illness. After about ten minutes in the company of his brutish older brother Antoine (Vincent Cassel) and his wife Catherine (Marion Cotillard), younger sister Suzanne (Léa Seydoux) and mother (Nathalie Baye), it becomes quite clear why he left. This histrionic brood continually argue and shout at one another and it’s absolutely unbearable. They each in turn get their moment to re-connect with Louis, but they can’t seem to say what they really feel.
Dolan’s use of shallow focus and intense close-up on faces creates a claustrophobic, intentionally uncomfortable experience. The aesthetic is a rich blend of browns and blues with blurred edges, and the only breaks for fresh air come when Louis disappears into his memories, where his life literally flashes before his eyes. The overbearing and dream-like ambience otherwise gives the impression that he’s trapped somewhere, perhaps in a hospital bed with everyone forcing their sad goodbyes on him. He speaks to his partner on the phone at one point and utters a moving and emotional farewell, with the simple words, ‘I’m scared.’
Yet the themes of regret and time running out are laboured and Dolan’s typically extravagant symbolism comes across as crude instead of stirring. A shot of a cuckoo clock opens and closes the film, and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how Dolan approaches his final shot, as he plays the audience out to Moby’s ‘Natural Blues’. The director has stated that this is his ‘first film as a man’ but, coming after the masterful Mommy, it feels like a step back.
Screening as part of Cannes 2016. General release TBC.